The Great White Pelican, first seen at 'Ding' Darling Sunday, Feb. 28, towers over the White Pelicans along Wildlife Drive. Photo by Judy Davis courtesy 'Ding' Darling NWR
The Great White Pelican, first seen at 'Ding' Darling Sunday, Feb. 28, towers over the White Pelicans along Wildlife Drive. Photo by Judy Davis courtesy 'Ding' Darling NWR

It's the rarest of the rare,” said 'Ding' Darling NWR Supervisory Ranger Toni Westland of the refuge's newest visitor, a Great White Pelican.

The pelican appeared Sunday, Feb. 28, at the refuge. It may be the first North American sighting of the bird which is a resident of parts of Europe, Asia and Africa. It is bound to attract birdwatchers from distant points, Westland said.

We have birdwatchers from all over anyway, and now we have the Great White Pelican. Less than hour after the gate opened this morning we had 110 go through the booth and that's a crazy number,” Westland said.

The bird was sighted first on Sunday morning by refuge observers.

They are very good birders, so we knew what we had,” Ranger Jeff Combs said.

He said noted ornithologists Donald and Lillian Stokes were among those who quickly confirmed the identification.

Several groups came in to see it after that. Since this may be the first North American sighting, we will get a bunch of people,” Combs said.

Whether this is the first North American sighting or not, it's sure to spark a lot of interest in the birding community. The identity of the bird isn't in question, but there are questions.

We don't know why it is here and we don't know where it came from,” Westland said. “It hasn't been banded or clipped in any way that would indicate that it is an escapee from somewhere. We just aren't sure at this point, but we do know the bird is here.”

The Great White Pelican looks like the White Pelican that is a common resident of the refuge, but it is much larger. It feeds the same way as the White Pelicans and mingles with them. It has been seen at various points along Wildlife Drive at low tide.